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The failure of the Legislature to pass to restore Nebraska's membership in the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact (MIPRC) results in the state losing its voice on passenger rail matters.

Nebraska was a charter member of the compact until former state Sen. Bill Kintner's bill succeeded in terminating Nebraska's participation because he couldn't see how the state benefited from its membership. But Nebraska now has a chance to regain its say.

Grand Island Sen. Dan Quick has introduced LB401, which would return Nebraska to the MIPRC -- and 10 senators have cosigned onto his legislation.

MIPRC was formed to provide central planning for passenger rail service in 10 Midwestern states. It also serves as a collective for rail passenger trains and lobbies on behalf of adequate funding for Amtrak.

This proposed rail service would be in addition to the long-distance California Zephyr trains currently running through Nebraska at night. The plan is to run passenger trains out of a Chicago hub in multiple directions to major cities.

Several of these lines are already in operation. A line from Chicago to Omaha was planned, and it would be easy to extend this service to Lincoln. With Nebraska falling out, it's possible that the trains through Illinois and Iowa will terminate in Council Bluffs, which would be inconvenient for Nebraska residents.

Nebraskans want passenger trains. A statewide poll conducted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Bureau of Sociological Research showed that a majority of citizens support funding for Amtrak, want rail commuter service between Lincoln and Omaha and desire to see more and better rail passenger service in Nebraska.

However, getting Nebraskans to put passenger rail on their radar scope is difficult. Unless they have gone out of state and experienced good, frequent rail service or ridden Amtrak, they are unaware of its potential.

Now that Nebraska has a Department of Transportation rather than a Department of Roads -- under which rail planning suffered -- it would be refreshing to see the department look at rail passenger possibilities rather than expend all its energies in designing four-lane expressways. I see a change at Nebraska DOT and a start at meaningful rail planning.

Quick's LB401 will restore Nebraska's membership in MIPRC, and it is hoped that the Legislature will see the wisdom of rejoining and continuing in the compact.

We don't have a currently rail passenger plan in Nebraska, and, as a result, federal taxes in Nebraska are sent to other states -- and Nebraska receives no federal rail passenger funding.

Therefore, we hope Gov. Pete Ricketts will get on board this train and direct the DOT to bring the state's rail passenger planning up to date.

While most other states have moved forward in the area of passenger and commuter rail, Nebraska has done little to nothing. The state needs to wake up and catch up. If we don't continue in the MIPRC, our chances for federal rail passenger funding are slim to none.

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Richard Schmeling is the president for Citizens for Improved Transit. He lives in Lincoln.


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